Oregon’s highest point is also a focal point for the city of Portland, and much of the Columbia River Gorge. It only makes sense that you’ll want to spend some time around beautiful Mount Hood, so how does a scenic drive sound? A 100-mile route takes you around the south and east sides of Mount Hood, and provides access to the mountain itself at Timberline Lodge.
The Mount Hood Byway starts at I-84 in the Gresham/Troutdale area, on the outskirts of metro Portland. Head south until you meet up with US 26, which will take you east as you circle around the south side of the mountain. At Government Camp, you can detour up to Timberline Lodge for skiing in the winter, or a Magic Mile ride in the summer. Back on the main road, turn off US 26 onto Oregon 35, for the return trip to I-84. The route ends at Hood River.
I was counting the hours until my airport departure, and I figured I had enough time to pay my respects to the mighty Mount Hood, so instead of returning directly to Portland, I detoured onto US 26 to follow the Byway. If you’re watching the Drivelapse videos below, you’ll notice that I accessed the byway near the town of Boring. Oregon 212 provides a shortcut to the byway for travelers coming up I-5 from the south.
I didn’t stop to take pictures along the way, but these photos from the Drivelapse cam will give you a good idea of what you’ll see.
It takes a while for US 26 to get away from Portland’s sprawl, but once you do, you’ll enjoy some rural Oregon scenery, followed by a tree-lined highway…
… with occasional breaks in the trees for communities like Cherryville, Mount Hood Village, Rhododendron, and everyone’s favorite, Zigzag.
Just off the main road…
… Government Camp is a nice ski village and tourist town. Shortly after Government Camp, you’ll see the turnoff for the road up to Timberline Lodge.
Up there, you’ll get the best views of the mountain.
The truth is, if following my route, and heading counter-clockwise around Mount Hood…
… this is just about the best view of the mountain you’ll get, as you make the climb up to Government Camp. Thankfully, the rear-view Drivelapse cam reveals the best way to drive this loop.
Looking backwards, there are numerous good views of Mount Hood on Oregon Route 35…
… which means, if you drove the loop clockwise (starting in Hood River, and taking 35 south, then 26 west), you’d probably find it to be much more scenic.
The Bottom Line
The Mount Hood Scenic Byway is a nice drive, but the really scenic part is Mount Hood itself. If you’re planning to drive up to Timberline Lodge, I’d say that the byway is worth your time. If you’re just driving the loop, you’ll still enjoy the scenery, but it might not be quite the awe-inspiring journey you’re hoping for.
Here’s a time-lapse look at the drive from Oregon 212, then US 26, around the south side of Mount Hood on the Mount Hood Scenic Byway, then up to Timberline Lodge…
… and the drive down from the lodge to US 26, then Oregon 35, for the drive back to I-84 at Hood River: